Federal Advocacy Update: Week of March 27, 2018

Capitol Building ceiling
Capitol Building ceiling

In this issue:

Funding for City Priorities Boosted in FY18 Omnibus Spending Bill

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

City leaders achieved a major legislative victory last week with enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which boosts funding levels for dozens of city priorities across multiple agencies in the federal budget. Moreover, as the first fully negotiated appropriations package under the Trump Administration, the Act also establishes a favorable set of benchmarks for future funding debates under the current Administration.

The debate over federal funding levels for Fiscal Year (FY) 18 began last year, when the Trump Administration proposed a budget that would have cut an unprecedented $54 billion in federal funding for domestic programs important to cities and towns. In response, NLC quickly organized city leaders to #FightTheCuts. After a six-month partisan stalemate over funding levels for defense and non-defense priorities, Congress validated our efforts by formally rejecting the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal and preempting any proposal for an austerity budget in FY19. A bipartisan majority of Congress did so by approving the “The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018,” which increased the overall amount of federal funding available for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by nearly $300 billion. In addition to rejecting the overall funding cuts sought by the Administration, the two-year budget agreement allowed Congress to provide funding increases for dozens of federal programs prioritized by city leaders in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

The $1.3 trillion spending bill maintains or increases funding for key programs that cities use to fund infrastructure, economic development, and public safety, among others. Other big wins for cities in the spending bill include new funding for water infrastructure, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and TIGER, which NLC highlighted as priority programs for our Rebuild With Us infrastructure campaign.

In response to the bill’s passage, NLC President Mark Stodola, Mayor of Little Rock, Ark., said, “This bill makes clear that city leaders are part of the solution to our country’s greatest challenges. It’s a victory not only for America’s 19,000 cities, towns and villages, but for the more than 250 million residents that rely on safe and reliable infrastructure and strong local economies that contribute 91 percent of the nation’s GDP.”

Important provisions in the bill relating to cities include:

  • CDBG: First meaningful increase since 2010, from $3 billion to $3.3 billion
  • Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER): Increased by $1 billion
  • Airport Discretionary Grants Targeting Small and Rural Airports: Increased by $1 billion
  • Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds: Increased by $300 million each
  • Transit Infrastructure Grants: Increased by $834 million (including $400 million to help communities modernize their bus systems and $400 million for capital assistance to transit systems)
  • Rural Broadband Infrastructure: $600 million in new funds
  • State and Local Law Enforcement Grants: Increased by $1.2 billion for a total of $2.9 billion in 2018. This includes a total of $446.5 million, an increase of $299.5 million more than fiscal year 2017, in DOJ grant funding to help State and local communities respond to the opioid crisis.
  • State Opioid Response Grants: $1 billion in new funding for grants to states to address the opioid crisis (this funding is in addition to the $500 million provided in the 21st Century Cures Act)
  • National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund: Pre-Disaster mitigation funding increased from $149 million to $249 million to build infrastructure that prevents loss of life and mitigates risks, reduces damage from future disasters, and lowers flood insurance premiums.
  • HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Vouchers: Increase funding of $40 million for new vouchers, while also protecting VA resources providing case management for homeless veterans.

Specific funding level changes are located on our FY18 Budget Tracker here.

Brownfields Reauthorization Passed with Omnibus

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Included in the FY18 omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed last week is the Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development Act, which reauthorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program, while making several key changes to assist with the cleanup and redevelopment of large, complex brownfields sites.

In a statement, NLC said, “We commend the President, the Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives for passing this important legislation in a bipartisan manner. This legislation is a major victory for our communities, providing local officials not only with much-needed funding, but also the flexibility to tailor their brownfield redevelopment to meet the individual needs of their cities, counties and regions.”

Through testimony and letters of support, NLC advocated for increasing the single-site cleanup grant cap, authorizing multipurpose grants, and clarifying issues around municipal liability. Many of NLC’s recommendations are incorporated into the bill.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Authorizes multipurpose grants up to $1 million
  • Increases funding for remediation grants to $500,000, with the ability for EPA to go up to $650,000 per site
  • Allows up to 5 percent of grant amounts to be used for administrative costs
  • Allows local governments to be eligible to receive brownfield assessment or remediation grants for brownfields properties that were acquired prior to Jan. 11, 2002
  • Addresses liability concerns for the “voluntary” acquisition of properties
  • Reauthorizes the program through 2023 and maintains the existing authorization level of $200 million annually

The brownfields reauthorization bill passed the House in December 2017 (H.R. 3017) and passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in July 2017 (S. 822). Bill sponsors include Reps. David McKinley (R-WV), Greg Walden (R-OR), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), John Shimkus (R-IL), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), and John Katko (R-NY) and Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Edward Markey (D-MA), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The brownfields program is funded at $80 million in the FY18 omnibus bill.

Cities Urge Congress to Rebuild With Us at CCC

Ashley Smith, 202.626.3094

During this year’s Congressional City Conference, 3,000 city leaders from across the country shared best practices in city governance, worked together to develop a National Municipal Policy advocacy platform and urged Congress to work with cities to rebuild and reimagine America’s infrastructure.

On Sunday, March 11, NLC's seven Federal Advocacy Committees met to learn about the current federal political landscape and deliberate policy positions. In addition, committee members discussed their action plans in support of NLC's advocacy priorities, including our Rebuild With Us infrastructure campaign, and finalized their focus for the year, which includes:

  • A focus on housing affordability by the Community and Economic Development Federal Advocacy Committee by working with experts to map out existing local, state, and federal authorities related to housing and develop policy recommendations that aim to improve outcomes for local leaders pursuing housing goals in their communities.
  • A focus on water infrastructure and climate change by the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Federal Advocacy Committee by concentrating on integrated planning and affordability issues for communities, as well as advocating for water infrastructure investments.
  • A continued focus on preserving tax-advantaged financing for city infrastructure, protecting city priorities in the U.S. tax code and closing the online sales tax loophole by the Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations Federal Advocacy Committee, while also placing a greater focus on ensuring the Census Bureau and American cities are both prepared for the upcoming 2020 Decennial Census.
  • A focus on comprehensive immigration reform, workforce development and homelessness by the Human Development Federal Advocacy Committee by continuing to support NLC’s long-standing policy, which includes the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and advocate for stronger investments in career and technical education and pathways to apprenticeship programs.
  • A continued focus on opposing and mitigating preemption of local authority over broadband infrastructure and advocating for increased federal support for broadband infrastructure investment, research, and technical assistance through improving existing broadband programs by the Information Technology and Communications Federal Advocacy Committee,
  • A focus on safe and resilient infrastructure, the opioid epidemic, FirstNet and conceal carry legislation by the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Federal Advocacy Committee.
  • A focus on the pressing issues facing cities that an infrastructure bill could address by the Transportation and Infrastructure Services Federal Advocacy Committee, including future funding model for transportation, the emergence of drones and low altitude flight, the testing of autonomous vehicles on city streets, the maintenance backlog and rise of new models of transit and rail.

On March 14, over 250 city officials descended on Capitol Hill and met with over 130 members of Congress and their staff during NLC’s 2018 Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. During the morning, the Pew Charitable Trusts and NLC hosted a breakfast briefing to call attention to the need for Congress and the Administration to focus on flood-ready infrastructure, featuring Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Former Charleston, S.C. Mayor and Pew Distinguished Fellow Joe Riley and Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director, NLC.

2018 Capitol Hill Advocacy Day

Throughout the day, city advocates shared stories highlighting the greatest infrastructure needs in their city, how they are already investing in infrastructure improvements and the importance of a federal partnership on infrastructure. Together, these local elected officials asked for a commitment from their federal legislators to develop an infrastructure plan that works collaboratively with cities and reflects our five guiding principles.

For more on the 2018 Congressional City Conference, visit NLC's blog CitiesSpeak.

Cities Tell Congress It's Time for True Partnership to Rebuild Infrastructure

­­Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

The National League of Cities was asked to testify about the state of America's infrastructure at two separate Senate Commerce Committee hearings in advance of a final and historic hearing where five sitting Administration Secretaries, including Transportation, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture and Energy, testified about the need to rebuild America's infrastructure. To set the stage for this push by the Administration to keep infrastructure on the political agenda, on Tuesday, March 13, Dan Gilmartin, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Municipal League and member of the National League of Cities, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security chaired by Senator Fischer (R-Neb.) and ranking member Sen. Peters (D-Mich.).

Infrastructure Hearing with Mr. Gilmartin

To begin, Mr. Gilmartin laid out the five principles NLC is promoting for infrastructure through the Rebuild With Us campaign: sustainable infrastructure investment, projects that are locally driven, true federal-local partnership, expanded revenue tools for cities, and, finally, acknowledge that we not just rebuild but also reimagine America's infrastructure for the future. He also expounded not only on what is happening in Michigan but across the country: "We are watching our major infrastructure systems break down in slow motion - from age, from wear and tear, from increased usage and from a lack of maintenance...America's infrastructure is a system being pushed to its limits, and with federal, state and local areas needing to find an additional $2 trillion just to keep what we have working, it is time to rebuild and reimagine how our infrastructure network works for us and our economy.

As Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) kicked off the final hearing the next day, he reiterated the bipartisan potential of infrastructure: "Both sides want to invest in and modernize our infrastructure. Both sides want that investment to address an array of infrastructure needs - not only roads and bridges but also needs like broadband and waterways. Both sides want to break down barriers for innovative technologies. Both sides want to make our existing programs [to] work better." However, Ranking Member Nelson (D-FL) cut to the quick with the trillion-dollar question everyone is asking: how are we going to pay for this? Given what the National League of Cities heard from cities' meetings on Capitol Hill during CCC, Congress wants to fix infrastructure, but they need to hear why your city, in their district, needs to see a real infrastructure package soon.

To read Dan Gilmartin's full testimony and watch a video of the hearing, visit the Senate Commerce Committee website.

Cities Need Broadband Investment, Not Preemption

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

On Tuesday, March 13, NLC Information Technology Committee Chair Gary Resnick, mayor of Wilton Manors, Florida, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet on the importance of federal broadband investment in cities. The only public official on a witness panel dominated by industry, Mayor Resnick told senators about the needs of city residents who still lack an affordable way to get online. He also highlighted the importance of combatting the rise of state and federal preemption, which has hurt cities’ ability to invest in municipal broadband and appropriately manage the use of public rights of way.

Mayor Resnick at the Preemption Hearing

“Mayors are good at getting things done,” Resnick told the senators in attendance. During the hearing’s question and answer portion, senators disputed the wisdom of focusing on 5G deployment in dense urban areas to the exclusion of expanding broadband access to unserved communities, particularly in rural areas where 5G technology is less effective. Mayor Resnick discussed the value of policies such as municipal broadband in closing the digital divide where market competition has not been sufficient to get residents online. Senators and witnesses also discussed the need for policies such as dig once, which ensure that broadband conduit is included in federal transportation projects, strengthening existing federal broadband programs such as the Universal Service Fund subsidies, and creating better broadband availability maps.

To read Mayor Resnick’s full testimony and watch a video of the hearing, visit the Senate Commerce Committee website.

Change in Plans for FAA Reauthorization

­­Brittney Kohler, 202.626.3164

In recent weeks, the legislative path to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has changed significantly as leaders respond to­­ political headwinds. Last year, cities voiced their concern with House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) plan to remove air traffic control from under the FAA. Additionally, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-SD) was also having trouble finding support for the Senate bill due to a pilot flight hours issue. In late February, citing a lack of support by fellow Republicans, Rep. Shuster announced that he would drop his proposal so that a full reauthorization of FAA could move forward, and similarly in the Senate, Sen. Thune dropped contentious provisions. Facing a March 31 deadline, the House pushed another FAA extension through September 30, 2018, riding on top of the omnibus package. They hope to use this additional time to move forward with a “reform bill” later this summer. The National League of Cities supports this change in the path forward for FAA and will continue to watch for city priority programs in the upcoming bill as well as possible drone provisions.

While the omnibus provided an easier path to FAA extension, a major disappointment was that it did not include a long-overdue adjustment to the ceiling for Passenger Facility Charges (PFC) that would allow airports to directly raise funds for airport improvements if they wished. However, Congress provided an additional $1 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) discretionary funds in the omnibus, which brings total funding to $4.35 billion, as well as $250 million for the Essential Air Service Program, $10 million for the Small Community Air Service Development Program, and $1.3 billion for NextGen development. Each of these programs support cities’ airports and the continued safe operation of planes throughout the U.S. airspace.

NLC Comments on Potential Lead and Copper Rule Revisions

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

On March 8, NLC submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on forthcoming proposed regulatory revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule. The comments follow a Federalism Consultation with state and local government organizations that the Agency held in January.

Established in 1991, the Lead and Copper Rule intends to reduce exposure to lead and copper through drinking water, whether from corrosion control measures for lead service lines or transparency and public education. The rule is applicable to all 68,000 public water systems, requiring them to sample water from households with plumbing materials that contain lead or copper and take action to reduce exposure to these harmful metals in drinking water.

EPA is considering five key areas for potential rule revisions, including:

  • Lead Service Line Replacement
    • Require systems to create an inventory of lead service lines
    • Require proactive full lead service line replacement on a specified schedule (e.g., 10, 15, 25, 35 years from promulgation)
  • Corrosion Control Treatment
    • Require systems with lead service lines (regardless of population served) to install and maintain corrosion control treatment
    • Prescribe a default corrosion control treatment that must be maintained unless a system can demonstrate equivalent corrosion control treatment to the state
  • Tap Sampling
    • Change where water systems are required to collect tap samples
    • Change the way samples are collected to be more representative of exposure
  • Public Education and Transparency
    • Require water systems to provide on-going targeted outreach with a special emphasis on all customers with lead service lines
  • Copper Requirements
    • Establish a screen to determine if water systems have water aggressive to copper
    • Modify tap sampling to require separate sampling sites for copper

While EPA has not fully developed the cost analysis, the Agency noted that based on preliminary estimates, replacing a full lead service line would cost on average $4,700 per line replaced, with an estimated 6-10 million services lines in communities across the country.

In order to avoid an unfunded mandate on local governments, NLC recommended that EPA provide financial and technical assistance, through grants and zero-interest loans, to help local governments and residents undertake required upgrades in an affordable manner and to identify best practices and cost-effective measures to replace lines in a holistic fashion. NLC also recommended that the Agency undertake education campaigns on the importance of testing their drinking water, and resources on how to address potential problems.

FCC Plans Changes to Federal Oversight of Small Cell Wireless Facilities

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

During its March 22 Open Meeting, the members of the Federal Communications Commission voted along a 3-2 party line to make major changes to federal oversight of small cell wireless facilities, over the objections of a number of local and tribal governments. The Report and Order approved by the FCC exempts small cell wireless facilities from federal historical and environmental reviews. In the order, the FCC argued that small cell sites are critical for 5G deployment, and do not present a major impact on their surroundings that justified federal oversight.

In comments opposing the order, NLC and other local government organizations asked the agency to reconsider its actions, citing the cumulative impact that hundreds of thousands of “small” wireless facilities will have on historic and environmentally sensitive areas. NLC and its partners noted that the order also defines “small” very generously, including new facilities that are up to 50 feet tall, without any limitation on associated equipment such as wiring, cabling, power sources, and equipment cabinets that may be placed on poles or nearby on the ground. The groups also pointed out that eliminating this oversight of small facilities will do nothing to address the lack of broadband availability or affordability in rural areas and urban broadband deserts, as 5G deployment will be targeted at already-developed areas.

The FCC’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC), which includes several NLC member communities as representatives of local interests, also filed comments in opposition to the order. In addition to sharing the concerns outlined in NLC’s filing, the IAC repeated its call for the FCC to update its safety standards for radiofrequency emissions exposure, address barriers to placing wireless equipment on poles owned by utilities and telephone companies, provide time for new state laws on small cell deployment to be fully implemented before adding additional regulation, and avoiding further preemption of state, local, and tribal control over rights of way and wireless infrastructure.

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